Book Review – ‘Treachery’ by S.J. Parris

Treachery by S.J. Parris

Also published on my sister blog

Perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose, the fourth historical thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, heretic, philosopher and spy. August, 1585. England is on the brink of war… Sir Francis Drake is preparing to launch a daring expedition against the Spanish when a murder aboard his ship changes everything. A relentless enemy. A treacherous conspiracy. Giordano Bruno agrees to hunt the killer down, only to find that more than one deadly plot is brewing in Plymouth’s murky underworld. And as he tracks a murderer through its dangerous streets, he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the future of England itself. [Description from Waterstones]

I wasn’t sure about this series at first, because it reminded me of the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom which I absolutely love. However, if you go into it with no expectations you will be pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable and well written it is in fact. It is shorter than the books in the Shardlake series which is to its advantage as the size of the Shardlake books initially put me off, but Parris manages to pack quite a lot into the book.

Giordano Bruno as a character is fascinating, being an ex-Dominican Italian monk, excommunicated by the Pope for heresy, and chasing banned books across Europe. This is the fourth book in the series, but actually one of my favourites, along with the first in the series ‘Heresy’. I think this is because the enigmatic figure of Sir Francis Drake appears in this story, and cleverly joins the fictional with the real, combining a political and religious plot with a personal vendetta.

Parris isn’t entirely skilled in bringing the environment to life; at times it seems a little monochrome rather than technicolour. She fails to describe sights, smells and sounds that would have pervaded busy ports and towns at the time which means it is sometimes quite difficult to really engage with what the characters are thinking and feeling. However, she really succeeds in fleshing out her characters and giving the impression of secrets and something yet to discover, while still making them rounded human beings.

Fear is a prominent emotion in this book, and generally it is really cleverly dealt with, but I think the underground section could have done with more description to really make the reader feel the claustrophobia. This has been done really well in other books (notably ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks) and Parris could pick up some tips on how to better write this kind of thing.

The premise of the book is thoroughly engaging, and just reading the blurb on the back made me want to delve in. Though there are bits of the writing that could be improved I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the storyline and the book as a whole. It is definitely well-worth a read, though you might want to start at the beginning of the series or some parts of this book will make no sense to you at all.

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